Can you share the genesis behind Amber Waves Farm?
We created the concept for Amber Waves as a 501(c)(3) not for profit community organic farm in 2008. Fortuitously, just after completing our farming apprenticeship, an 8-acre parcel of land that was had been conserved for organic farm production in Amagansett, NY came up for lease and we responded to a request for proposals with our business plan that outlined the foundation of the farm in three pillars: food education, food production, and organic farming trials and research. We chose Amber Waves Farm as the name because we wanted invoke a sense of ethereal beauty, reference our unique location by the sea, and point to our new Amagansett Wheat Project.
What is the core value represented at the farm?
Partnership. As founders, co-executive directors, and co-head farmers we collaborate and support each other in every aspect and decision of the farm from crop layout and seed selection, to crew mentorship and community outreach. We are also in a partnership with the soil and our environment, our community that supports us and our fellow farmers and educators.
In a small town, how important is the community to your mission?
Our community is the foundation of the farm, and they are the reason the farm exists. We believe farming is an act of service and a community organic farm’s success depends on the commitment of the community, so we are fortunate to have reciprocity of service and support. Our group of staunch supporters who have been with us from the beginning have shared the story of our mission with friends and that has spread in a grass-rootsy kind of way to create a community of farm members who visit us weekly through the CSA, teachers who bring their students to the fields to learn and apprentices who spend a season training and learning organic farming methods.
What do you grow here at the farm?
We grow 250 varieties of fruits, vegetables and grains, and we have a flock of 150 laying hens.
What is the process and timeline from seed to harvest?
It is a dream to farm in Amagansett because of the rich glacial soils and our long growing season. Because we are surrounded by water—the ocean to the south and the bay to the north—The East End has a long cold spring season, but a gloriously long warm fall season. We start all of our annual vegetable and fruit crops from seed in our greenhouses beginning in April and begin transplanting them out into the field in May. Over the course of a growing season we will transplant 250,000 plants and direct seed many linear miles of others. Kale (of which we grow 6 varieties) is a great example of our longest season crop. We seed it in April, transplant it in May, begin harvesting it two weeks later and continue to harvest over the next 8 months when there is snow on the ground in January! An example of a super-short season crop gets you great bang for your buck are radishes. This crop is 25-30 days seed to harvest that we plant in successions every two weeks and chefs are loving them for both their jewel-tone colors and their range in mild to spicy flavor (the spiciness level of radishes is associated with soil temperature—spring radishes are mild because the soil is cool and summer radishes have a bite because the soil has warmed up on hot days).
Can you speak about the CSA program you offer?
We love our CSA members! They are risk-takers and adventurers like us! The farm is supported by 150 families and individuals, who share the risks and rewards of the growing season with us. They provide critical investment and support at the beginning of our season, and in return, receive a bountiful box of produce each week. In addition, we get our CSA members out into the fields to experience some you-pick crops like raspberries and cherry tomatoes for an optional full contact experience. We will begin online sign-ups in January: please join us!
What are the benefits to both the farm, as well as to the end user?
Healthy soil à healthy food à healthy people. Teaching eaters what it means to produce food responsibly and ethically is incredibly important to us. Therefore, we chose to be the boots on the ground, doing the work to teach people about where their food comes from and how it is grown, introduce new crops, foods and flavors, and open our fields as a public space for exploration and enjoyment.
I know that education surrounding farming is very important to you – How do you engage the children in the program that you offer?
The primary work we do at Amber Waves is to educate people about food: how it is produced, how to eat it, and why it matters. We are in the business of building healthy bodies and healthy ecosystems, and to do this we engage people with their food. We think of our educational work in two channels—the producer and the consumer—so, the grower and the eater.
We have accessed eaters over the last seven years through work with school groups both out in the field and in the classroom, summer camps, and our CSA families. We get people, especially kids, excited about food through tasting tours in the field, group work projects like planting, weeding, harvesting, and feeding the chickens, and completing the entire wheat process—from planting to harvesting, cleaning, milling, and then finally making pizza. The most rewarding part of this work has been what we call the sixth grade difference—it’s the difference we can see between kids who have visited the farm many times over years and those visiting the farm for the first time. Kids are sponges, so when they visit the farm for the second, third, tenth time, they are able to build their knowledge base from past visits—everything from how to harvest a carrot to identifying plant families to being comfortable with tasting something completely new and talking about how it looks, feels, smells, and tastes. Comfort in the fields is what we’re going for. We want them to know exactly where food comes from, and to pick it themselves at the source, with the belief that this feeling of empowerment over their access to food will lead to a lifetime relationship with food, one that is thoughtful, healthy, and ultimately their best key to their own wellness.
That is how we’ve accessed the consumers, the eaters. To get to the future producers, the farmers, we established an apprenticeship program to teach young people how to produce food organically and ethically. Over the last four seasons we have grown 17 new farmers. All of our former apprentices are actively farming.
Our apprentices come to us with little or no experience with farming and leave with the knowledge and skills to start their own farms. Apprentices learn every part of the operation: starting seedlings in the greenhouse, hoeing and harvesting, and also managing the CSA, farmers markets, and wholesale accounts. We provide them with housing and a stipend, and in exchange they spend the season working their hearts out for us. Outside of growing up in a farm family, apprenticeship programs are one of the only ways to save and pass on the incredibly important knowledge associated with growing food. Operating a biologically diverse, efficiently run farm is not an unskilled job, and we think it is incredibly important to spend significant time and energy to teach this trade.
The apprenticeship model of teaching organic agricultural practices really excels in the not-for-profit organizational structure because we can dedicate a vast majority of our time to mentorship and instruction.
Any foolproof tricks you can share for parents that get a picky eater to discover new vegetables?
Plant some seeds! Grow some food! We have found that giving a child the opportunity to grow some of their own food is the best way to open their flavor palate and explore new tastes. There is a sense of accomplishment and empowerment, and they want to eat what they grew! Arugula is a great example of a food crop that you can easily access the seed (www.johnnyseeds.com) and it is quick to grow, easy to harvest, and healthy to eat. All you needs is a 4” or 6” pot, organic potting soil, and seeds. This “salad” pot can be watered every other day and should live in a sunny windowsill. This is something you can easily do with your kids and if they don’t eat arugula from the grocery store, we bet if they grow it themselves they will at least try it (and probably love it).
The pizza oven is incredible! I know you grow wheat here; do you make your own dough and sauce? Are all your pizza ingredients made on the farm?
The pizza oven is really a culmination of a lot of dreams and we have always held strongly to the idea that Amber Waves would be a “pizza farm” using the story arc of “growing” pizza to communicate and educate kids about where their food comes from. We worked with the great folks at Maine Wood Heat to custom build our mobile oven so it can travel off-site to schools for parking lot pizza parties. Carissa Waechter of Carissa’s Breads makes the dough for us using some of our whole wheat flour, and the sauce is made from our Amagansett-grown San Marzano tomatoes in the commercial kitchen run by the Amagansett Food Institute
Everybody eats! And, everybody loves pizza! The oven is a tool—a beautiful wood-burning, copper-wrapped package that takes the raw farm food to a new (delicious and approachable) level. It opens the conversation for some tough issues we have to face with our current food system, including our health care system, immigration policies, natural resources and national security. Food touches us all each day in many ways. We understand that to reach people and to talk about these issues, we have to be creative in communicating our mission and message. Plus, there’s no bigger thrill than the head-whipping-around response from pedestrians when towing this 7,000 lb. beauty around town and the sheer delight of tasting an authentic farm-to-oven pizza
How did you both get into farming?
Katie, originally from Southern California, graduated from USC with a degree in International Relations and spent three years working for the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Arriving at a crossroads of either continuing the foreign policy trajectory or following a passion for being outdoors and a love of food, she decided to pull the ripcord and change career paths. She sought the advice of those she loved and admired, and listened to one particular voice that noted she loved food and seemed happiest shopping at a farmers market and cooking in the kitchen! She left her job at the Council and on her last day the woman she hired to replace her gave her Scott Chaskey’s book, This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm. This became Katie’s source of inspiration and she decided to apply for an organic farming apprenticeship at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, NY.
Amanda, a Vermont native, graduated from Hamilton College in Central New York with a dual major in Environmental Studies and Economics. She had applied to the Quail Hill Farm apprenticeship program with the intention of getting some hands-on field experience for a year, and then going abroad with a NGO working in micro-finance and economic development. She fell in love with the work in the field and the beauty of The East End. Eager to continue farming after their apprenticeship they put their hunger, energy, creativity and passion for the work into creating Amber Waves Farm.